Just like the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act made it easier for veterans to obtain service connections for burn pits and other toxic exposure, it also makes it easier for their surviving spouses and family members to obtain compensation. This is known as Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and expanding its availability to survivors of burn pit exposure victims is a key component of the PACT Act.
Benefits related to burn pit exposure were available before the PACT Act took effect. However, it was difficult to prove that the claimant’s disabilities had a service-related connection. We will walk you through the PACT Act basics and explain how the Act makes it easier for survivors to obtain DIC benefits.
PACT Act Basics
The PACT Act is one of the largest health care expansions in VA history. The law created a service-related presumption for 11 respiratory conditions linked to burn pit exposure and several kinds of cancer linked to exposure to toxic substances. Also, thanks to the Honoring Our PACT Act, Agent Orange exposure victims in Vietnam and veterans who were injured by the transportation, storage, and use of nuclear weapons during the Cold War will be able to obtain benefits more easily.
By adding these conditions to the list of “presumptive” diseases, the VA is saying it will assume, or presume, that if a veteran has one of these conditions and they served in countries where burn pits or other substances were used, the condition was caused by that exposure.
Veterans have been denied benefits for these issues in the past because it is difficult to identify the cause of cancer or respiratory conditions. However, enough research has been done about the effect of burn pit and toxic smoke exposure, and enough veterans who were otherwise healthy have been diagnosed with these conditions that the VA is willing to confirm — or assume, at least — that there is a link.
Now, a veteran with a presumptive condition only needs to prove they served in a qualifying country and the VA will grant service connection for their condition.
Obtaining maximum disability benefits, however, is a different issue. The VA assigns ratings to service-connected conditions, with compensation levels tied to the ratings. If you are assigned a lower rating than you think you deserve, you can appeal the VA’s decision in one of several ways. It is best to have an experienced VA disability appeals attorney navigate this process for you.
DIC benefits are available when a veteran has died in the line of duty or due to a service-connected condition. If the veteran was not service-connected for their condition at the time of death, the survivor can still apply for DIC but must prove service connection as part of the claim. DIC benefits consist of monthly payments to the spouse, child(ren), or parents of the veteran or payment of any accrued benefits that had not been paid to the veteran prior to their death.
Because of the difficulty in proving service connection for respiratory illnesses and cancer prior to the PACT Act, many veterans were denied benefits. Therefore, if they passed away from these conditions, their family members were not granted benefits either. Survivors who previously had their DIC claims denied may now be able to receive that compensation under the Act.
Evidence Needed in DIC Claims
In many cases, however, there is still the matter of proving the service-connected condition caused the veteran’s death. If a service-connected respiratory illness led to pneumonia, which caused a veteran’s death, the survivors would have to prove that even though pneumonia is listed as the cause of death, the service-connected respiratory illness is still the proximate cause. In other words, the veteran would not have died if not for the original respiratory illness.
In addition to the cause of death, claimants must satisfy strict eligibility conditions. Surviving spouses are eligible for benefits if they were married to the veteran at the time of their death, or if they were not at fault for a divorce. Additionally, these claimants must prove they married the veteran within fifteen years of his/her discharge, the marriage lasted at least a year, or they had a child together.
Unmarried children who are not included in the veteran’s compensation package and who are under 18 (or under 23 if in school) are likewise eligible for DIC benefits. Surviving parents may also be eligible for benefits in a few cases.
Connect an Appeals Attorney
An attorney experienced in VA disability appeals can help you fight for the compensation you deserve. For a free consultation with a veterans disability lawyer, contact the Cameron Firm, PC at 800-861-7262 or fill out the contact form on our website. We are here to represent veterans nationwide.
This article is for educational and marketing purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship.